Even as another high-pitched and colorful tourism season is drawing to a close in God’s Own Country, the socio-political horizon of Kerala is experiencing a fresh onset of heated controversies thrown up by the ongoing solar scam and bar bribery scandal involving the state government as well as the opposition. The rival political formations in Kerala—the Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF), the CPM led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP led National Democratic Front (NDA)—are firing from all cylinders using “revelations” from these scandals as cannon fodder in their bid to gear up avidly for the Assembly polls just a couple of months away.
Scandals involving sultry damsels, liquor barons and politicians of all hues are nothing new to Kerala. The curtailing of the political career of former Home Minister P.T. Chacko following an uproar over an accident of the car in which he was travelling along with a “mysterious woman” in 1964 is just one among such scurrilous episodes in Kerala’s political history. Fading this “accident” from public memory was the infamous ISRO espionage case involving a Maldivian woman, Mariam Rasheeda, whose alleged links with the powers-that-be effectively threw the then Congress stalwart and Chief Minister K. Karunakaran into political wilderness.
However, never before as now, women with such scandalous and dubious distinctions gained an aura which could hold sway over the entire public domain of the state. For, a notorious woman named Sarita S. Nair has achieved an “envious” position in Kerala’s socio-political ambit dominating the state’s political discourse and dictating the media agenda. “Clearly”, points out left intellectual and CPM leader Dr Thomas Issac, “Kerala is no longer a state which sparkled with high renaissance socio-cultural values born from the movements of Sree Narayana Guru, Mahatma Ayyankali and energising leftist consciousness”, which resulted in the first ever democratically elected communist government in the world. “Not to forget,” the former minister added, “Kerala was also a state which prided on its highly sensitised media culture.”
The frenzied reaction of political parties and media over anything related to Sarita Nair and such dubious figures gives the impression that there are no other issues of serious consequence in the state. Every day it is revelations by her or someone close to the powers-that-be, which now grab the headlines. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the media reporting corruption involving the high and the mighty in the ruling dispensation. The series of bribery allegations levelled by liquor baron Biju Ramesh against former Finance Minister K.M. Mani, Excise Minister K. Babu, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar certainly warrant public and media attention. However, the CPM led opposition’s unbridled eagerness to accept these allegations as cardinal truths rather than subjecting them to investigation and legal scrutiny, has left the ruling class and their rivals locked in a war of words, thus leaving the general masses in utter confusion even as they eagerly wait to deliver the Assembly poll verdict once again.
Similar is the case with the “revelations” by Sarita and her former partner, Biju Radhakrishnanan, who is serving a jail term for the murder of his first wife, regarding Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, his son Chandy Oommen, an array of UDF ministers, legislators and coalition leaders close to the CM for allegedly accepting fiscal and sexual favours from Sarita for extending governmental support to the bogus Team Solar company floated by these fraudsters. The whole polity and the legal mechanism became a laughing stock when a commission probing the solar scam deputed a police team to accompany Biju Radhakrishnan to Coimbatore to retrieve a CD containing sleazy sexual scenes allegedly involving Sarita Nair and a section of the leaders of the ruling coalition.
This does not, however, rule out the possibility of shady dealings in Kerala’s corridors of power between the solar fraudsters and liquor barons on one side and corrupt ministers of the UDF government and close confidants of the CM on the other side. There is no doubt that as CM, Ommen Chandy did not exercise the wisdom gained over his long political career, landing the Congress and its coalition government in Kerala in many an avoidable controversy including the solar scam and the bar bribery scandal.
However, the attempt of the Left Democrat Front opposition camp and the BJP on the sidelines, conveniently overlooking the ongoing judicial process and to present everything uttered by the Solar fraudsters and the bar barons as a proven litany of charges, is only helping the government to tide over the situation, dismissing the allegations as “unfounded and politically motivated”. With the overzealous media, especially television channels and social media, attempting to paint Sarita Nair as some kind of a Joan of Arc and Biju Ramesh as a Robin Hood, and for the general public waiting to gulp it avidly, the whole legacy of Kerala’s reputed socio-political consciousness seems to have been blown to smithereens.
The LDF opposition, which is already beginning to feel the warmth of power returning to it just a couple of months from now, is banking heavily upon the “never ending revelations” by the fraudsters. This, concede a section of observers of left politics like N.M. Pearson, has exposed the chinks in the Left Front’s armoury, particularly when confronting the argument that the LDF has nothing credible to offer as an alternative to the “fallen UDF camp”. According to Pearson, “With no focused vision on bringing about development initiatives which would not further jeopardise the already fragile environmental balance of the state, the LDF seems to be solely hoping on grabbing power through the ongoing solar and bar scandals.”
Even veteran Marxist and former CM, V.S. Achuthanandan seems to have buried his differences with his bête-noir in the CPM, Pinarayi Vijayan when it comes to toeing the UDF line of development initiatives, especially when the state is witnessing several political yatras in the run-up to the Assembly elections. With Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, addressing a rally on the conclusion of the Jan Raksha Yatra in the state capital, urging his state leaders to “bury their hatchet at least till the election”, the ruling coalition leaders hope to bring about a ceasefire in its faction driven ranks. This, says Congress veteran and former Defence Minister A.K. Antony, will turn the political heat on the LDF because “the Congress led UDF in Kerala can be defeated only by Congress infighting”.
Significantly, more than ever before, the BJP, having made political gains in the recent local body elections, is on a rejuvenated fighting mode. Having the reins of power at the Centre and winning the support of several Hindu groups, including the newly floated BJDS, a political outfit of influential SNDP leader Vellapalli Natesan, the BJP seems to be working hard and hoping to at least open its account in the Kerala Assembly in the polls. Asserts BJP leader Alphonse Kannamthanam: “Kerala will script a significant electoral history this time as the BJP led NDA will wrest a number of Assembly seats from the UDF and the LDF.” Although the claim could sound exaggerated, independent political observer V.R. Krishnan points out that “the BJP-BJDS combine could cause poll upsets especially in Assembly segments spread in the extreme north and south of Kerala”.